My memoir, I Have Lived A Thousand Years, came out in Hebrew a few months ago. The book cover sports my picture as a teen with blond braids.
About an hour’s drive from the seaside resort town where we live there is a religious kibbutz called Beerot Yitzhak, “Isaac’s Fountains” in English. A kibbutz is a collective settlement established early in the history of modern Israel by young immigrants. A member of this kibbutz purchased the book and placed it on a shelf in the kibbutz library. A veteran member of the kibbutz, a ninety-year-old lady who is in the habit of sitting silently for hours noticed the picture of the young girl on the cover and rushed over to the book on the shelf, exclaiming: “This is Elli Friedman! This is Elli Friedman!”
Vera Lowenstein’s granddaughter happened to be in the library and witnessed the unbelievable scene. Embracing her grandmother, she led her to a nearby table and began gently to coax some information from the silent ninety-year-old. Vera haltingly related that she knew the author of the book from her childhood in a village in Slovakia! The excitement of recognition shattered her deep silence.
The family was determined to locate the author. Within days they obtained my phone number from the publisher, and contacted me with the amazing story. For me, the phone call was a blast from the past. I have not heard of any fellow survivors for decades. I remembered that Vera Lowenstein had been in my brother’s class. My beloved brother who was four years my senior had died just recently. His passing is still a fresh bleeding wound. I yearned to see his schoolmate. The granddaughter offered to bring Vera to my home, but I insisted on going to the kibbutz to meet her at her home.
A few days later my husband and I were driven to Kibbutz Beerot Yizchak where, to our surprise, photographers of the Israeli Television Channel 2 were awaiting our arrival. They filmed us as we approached each other with open arms.
We had last seen each other in 1945 after liberation from Dachau Concentration Camp.
Vera Lowenstein returned home after the war and later joined a hachshara, a training camp for pioneers for Palestine, in Slovakia. Together with the members of this group she attempted to make aliya – maapilim they were called. The British captured their boat and prevented it from landing in Israel. The pioneers were sent to a Cyprus internment camp. It was only four months later that Vera eventually made aliya and joined Kibbutz Beerot Yitzchak, at that time in the Negev region.
In 1947, the Egyptian army attacked the kibbutz, and although the heroic fighters defended it and forced the Egyptians to retreat, the fierce battle destroyed the site. It was at this point that the kibbutz moved to its present location. It was here she married Chaim Leibovitz in 1950, and her three children, Shlomo z”l, Yehudah, and Leah, and her seven grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren were born.
As we met again after 71 years, we regained our lost world in our fragile embrace.